ON MINDFULNESS – and minding your p’s and q’s.

by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on March 31, 2014

Mindfulness is a term that gets used a lot these days, despite the fact that it has been around for centuries. Eastern thought, primarily Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism, and meditative disciplines have always had the concept of mindfulness at their core. The idea of mindfulness has entered western ideas through the world of spirituality and meditation, as well as through disciplines like yoga. In psychology, the meaning of mindfulness has been equated with being conscious and thoughtful about one’s experience and actions, having nothing to do with spirituality. In the realm of the behavioral sciences, mindfulness has always had to do with mind, and the process of our subjective experience. Interestingly, when we take both Eastern and Western notions of the idea of mindfulnesss, they provide a bridge between our internal world and the external realities of the world, and as such,  a way to connect emotions, thoughts and actions.

Put simply, mindfulness is about living thoughtfully. But what goes into being thoughtful? In psychoanalysis we are fond of using the term consciousness, by which we mean our experience of being aware. And what about awareness? Where does that fit in the sphere of mindfulness?  So many words to describe one experience.   Awareness is part of being mindful, in the same way that being conscious is. Both words describe a process of bringing one’s attention inward, of looking at our feelings and thoughts and how they affect our behavior and actions. Awareness allows us to have a subjective sense of something that leads to knowing what it is. Being conscious and aware lead us to being mindful, to being able to think and consider options and choices, to being able to alter our behavior and thoughts- and here is the cherry- to being able to change our very neural structure. Yes really.

Eastern disciplines arrived at mindfulness through various philosophical teachings and meditative practices which continue to be valued because their practice changes the self at its core. In western thought we have moved closer to these practices and ideas not only through various forms of spirituality, but through the fields of psychology and neurobiology.  The relatively new science of interpersonal neurobiology has validated many psychoanalytic ideas, and tells us that nature and nurture are inevitably intertwined rather than independent from or merely interactive with each other. Intertwined. Woven into the very fabric of each other. Inseparable. We are what we experience because what we experience stimulates and shapes the development of our brain and nervous system. Our mind is both embodied and embedded in relationship. Our personal neurobiology is relationally determined. This not only means that our early interactions with primary caretakers are responsible for the shaping and development of our neuronal systems  and the way we respond to intimate relationships later in life, it also means that relationships (therapeutic or otherwise) are the primary crucible for development and potential change.

Think of it- we are born into a relational system made up of the mother/infant dyad and the interactions that take place between them. It is up to the primary caretaker to introduce the infant to the world and mediate their internal experience of it. It is the primary caretaker that “regulates” early experiences for the infant, and that regulation is based both on the caretakers own internal experience  and her interactions with the infant. It is this interpersonal attunement between mother and child that shapes the ability to self regulate, and in adulthood, it is the capacity to self regulate that leads to mindful living.

Remember the adage “mind your p’s and q’s”? It reminds one that we must pay attention. It reminds us that what we do, down to its most refined detail, has meaning, impact and consequences- not only for us, but very likely for others as well.  Mindfulness is about minding our p’s and q’s: It is about being able to look at what we do, think about what motivates our actions and consider how our behavior and actions impact others. It is a concept that incorporates both the “I” and the “us”, the individual and the community. Psychology and psychoanalysis have tended to use the terms mindfulness and consciousness to define the experience of self-observation, introspectiveness and self-awareness. But  mindfulness also includes an awareness of others as recipients of our actions and shapers of our experience.  Mindfulness is inherently a relational term because it speaks to the nature of inter-subjectivity.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Luca Caldironi April 4, 2014 at 9:09 AM

Its very interesting the relationship between inter-subjectivity and intra-subjectivity. I think mindfulness a usefull ‘passport word’ to think about this area. It s true it’s a very common concept in ancient Eastern philosophy and a pillar rule in psychoanalysis ( the Hic et Nunc of the session) . In this way it’s implicit that the dyad analyst -patient , mother – infant , self-observation …..is very important in growing this aptitude. Thanks Velleda for your interesting topics Luca


Jack Wiener, LP, CMT April 1, 2014 at 9:49 AM

A beautifully articulated plea for sensitivity, for attentiveness to the minutiae of living that makes life engaging, interesting, and times very exciting.


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